Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Lose.

March 20, 2018

Every once in a great while you have one of those ah-ha moments.  That’s what happened when I read one of the Letters to the Editor in the New York Times that was positioned across from the lead editorial.  They revealed to me why the Republican leadership has been acting like frightened third graders hiding from the school bully.

So what was the slashing insight I awoke with?   The GOP leadership is not vying for inclusion in Profiles in Cowardice.   They’re just waiting and leaving tiny hints that they are capable of having dissident thoughts.   They’re not hoping that the Mueller report will “end the Presidency” of a vulgarian, or that some egregious act by the President is so threatening to the political norms that it justifies impeachment.  No, what they’re waiting for is to be sure that Mr. Trump cannot deliver his core supporters in sufficient numbers to keep the House of Representatives, not just the Senate, in Republican hands.

One can conceal nothing from me and you probably didn’t hear this first here. I want to believe the Republican leadership is more or less reconciled to losing at least one of the houses of Congress and perhaps both.  They can then attribute those losses to Mr. Trump and move aggressively to retake their party.  Pretty simple stuff, but maybe difficult to pull off.  But maybe, just maybe, they are secretly hoping they will lose one or both of the houses of Congress so they can dump Mr. Trump.

They’ve had some significant events to pin their hopes on.   Politifact claims that 40 seats have flipped from Republican to Democratic, most at the state legislative level.   Even in Oklahoma and Alabama and now Pennsylvania.   So there’s plenty for the GOP to wring their hands over, at least publicly.

But it’s not what has already happened; it’s what might happen in November, 2018 that keeps the boys in the back, smoke-filled rooms occupied.  According to a whole bunch of websites, there are reasons why the GOP leadership in Congress has decided their only choice is to wait it out.  It takes 218 members to control the House.  (I’m not dealing with the Senate in this post.  Maybe later.)  According to those websites, there are as many as 21 seats that are considered “toss-ups.”  As of March 15, the Democrats had 193 seats and the GOP 238, with four vacancies.   So, if my back of the envelope math is accurate, the Democrats would have to hold on to what they have, win all 21 “toss-ups” and still have to find four more seats somewhere, either by flipping them or by filling a vacancy with a Democrat.  A really big challenge.  About the only safe thing to assume is that the House will change parties as it almost always does at midterm.   We certainly can’t assume that the GOP leadership will actively campaign against their own Party just to be able to make Mr. Trump a “loser.”

But we are not living in static times when “norms” are reliable.  Things change unpredictably daily.   All I’m trying to do today is justify my current contention that there is little reason for the GOP leadership to get so crosswise with Mr. Trump that he is motivated any more than he already is to spend more time rallying his core and increasing the vitriol of his tweets, thus alienating an increasing number of voters who are tiring of his “leadership” tactics, further endangering the fate of the “toss-up” seats, and further dividing an already splintered Party.  However, were they to lose the House, the GOP leadership could then reassert their own prerogatives within the Party and begin to rebuild on their own terms, secure in the knowledge that they don’t need Mr. Trump.

For those of us who believe in the two-party system as the foundation of our otherwise hopelessly handicapped political system, I wish the GOP well.   I hope they lose.   Sometimes losing is the only way to win.

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